The state of wind generated electricity in New Zealand.
Give it a crack, try NZGeo for $1
Unlimited access to every NZGeo story ever written and hundreds of hours of natural history documentaries on all your devices.
Already a subscriber? Sign in
I, a mere wage slave, periodically take note of raised eyebrows among my peers when it’s revealed that I don’t own a cellphone. Similarly, Warren, this magazine’s editor, has no cellphone—an even more remarkable crime given that we live in an age of important people needing 24/7 access to important people. We two, I’m informed, are Luddites. If someone hands me a cellphone, I have no idea which button to press to activate the machine, how to look up a number in its memory, or even how to turn it off when I’m finished. I have never texted anyone, nor do I have the remotest idea how or why I would use this facility. If I am ever shown what to do, such useful information will be quickly forgotten. Am I a technophobe? It’s true that I never mastered that old video recorder either. But to counter this, I’m handy with computers. I have stripped down, repaired and reassembled cars, motorcycles, computers, power tools and whiteware. I have no apparent fear of machines. My blindspot, and I suspect Warren’s too, lies not so much in a fear of technology, as in our perception of value-versus-vexation. Being constantly plugged-in to the information grid via a portable telephone is, I think, analogous to being on the end of an electronic leash. In general, I find it difficult to visualise which single piece of information could be so important that I’d need it brought to my attention while I’m lying under a tree chewing on an apple, or taking a half-hour ferry trip across the Hauraki Gulf. Captain Cook and his crew managed much longer sea voyages without a cellphone. Speaking of perception, who were these Luddites that Warren and I so keenly resemble? If your mental image is of semi-Neanderthals destroying machines with feckless glee, thereafter lending their name to anyone who seemed to represent anti-progress or anti-technology, join the queue. The followers of Ned Ludd have suffered two hundred years of bum rap from the press. In 1811, skilled workers in Nottingham who were upset at wage reductions and being replaced by unskilled labourers employed on new machines in textile factories began destroying those machines in protest. This movement spread to other parts of England as the industrial revolution steadily put artisans out of work and pushed down living standards. In response, the British Parliament passed the Frame Breaking Act so that those caught interfering with machines could be sentenced to death. A number of men (and at least one boy) were sent to the scaffold for breaking stocking frames, looms and other equipment. The perception that still lingers, that Luddites were antiprogress—destroying machines out of superstition—is erroneous. It wasn’t about them destroying machines, they were trying to stop the machines from destroying them. Artisans would not have objected if these new machines had actually enhanced their skill base or improved their working conditions. We might sagely contend that progress is inevitable, and that these fellows waged war with the tide of history. Luddites would respond that progress is the servant of humanity, not vice versa. Automation was, and is still today, selectively introduced in a way that mostly undermines skilled workers. A few years ago this magazine would have employed paste-up artists, typographers and various other production specialists. Today these jobs are done on a single computer. Take the case of management. Managers have two essential functions. One is the coordination of resources. The other is collecting information and acting on it (decision-making). These are both things that computers are really good at. While bosses have boundless enthusiasm for automating the work of telephonists and bank tellers, have you ever heard of them replacing themselves and thus increasing productivity and profitability? Tiger Woods recently lamented that everyone on the pro-golf circuit carries a 60-degree wedge in their bag, saying he would set a 56-degree limit to the angle of the head. This is pure Luddite thinking. The 60-degree angle means that golfers don’t have to apply finesse to the weight of their shot in certain circumstances, meaning the club now does the work that used to hinge on the skill of the individual. Tiger has invested a huge amount of time into developing skills that enhance the way he plays. His sense of fulfilment and his livelihood are both threatened when some manufacturer releases a gadget to level the playing field. Many machines make our lives better, in the sense that we spend less effort on trivial, time-consuming tasks and can thereafter concentrate on quality. But, many machines do the opposite. Some technology eats up your quality time with nothing even vaguely resembling a quality reward. Among TV executives advertising is known as “content” and programming is “filler”. No surprise then that measurable brain activity is lower when you are watching television than when you are sleeping. Physiologically, TV viewing is the closest you are likely to come to being dead without a funeral. If you selectively ignore some machines while embracing others on the basis of whether or not those machines enhance your enjoyment of life, then you can claim to be a spiritual heir to Luddism. It follows that being called a Luddite might be less of an insult than is usually implicit in the accusation.
On January 16, 2006, a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3-K Orion landed at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica for the first time. The flight to the ice was the finale to nearly two years of planning by both the RNZAF and government agencies, and was a trial to see whether the P3-K could operate safely in the region. Although being able to operate from the ice would be advantageous for some search-and-rescue operations and emergency medical evacuations, the air force’s main interest in the Antarctic region is fisheries surveillance. As Air Commodore Dick Newlands has put it: “Future surveillance missions may operate from Antarctica on behalf of the government of New Zealand with specific emphasis on meeting the CCAMLR surveillance, deterrence and enforcement requirements.” The CCAMLR—the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources—is a body established under the umbrella of the Antarctic Treaty to conserve the marine life of the Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica. One of the CCAMLR’s principal concerns is fisheries. Under the commission’s auspices, the RNZAF monitors fisheries primarily in the Ross Sea sector of the Southern Ocean. Its patrols, which are conducted in support of the CCAMLR’s System of Inspection, are intended to deter and detect illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, especially for tooth-fish. From Antarctica, a P3 can run considerably longer patrols in the Southern Ocean than it can from New Zealand. Toothfish are large bottom-dwellers found in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters at depths ranging from 300 m to 3000 m. There are two main species: the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni) and the Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), otherwise known as Chilean sea bass. Toothfish can grow to over 2.3 m in length and can weigh more than 130 kg. Both species have a circumpolar distribution. The Patagonian toothfish is found in sub-Antarctic waters extending south to the Antarctic Convergence, where the cold Antarctic waters meet warmer, saltier waters to the north. Most of its distribution falls within the CCAMLR area, although the main fisheries lie within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the UK, France, Australia and South Africa, and are managed by those countries. Closer to home, Patagonian toothfish occur in small numbers on the Campbell Plateau and around Macquarie Island and extend south along the Macquarie Ridge into the north of the Ross Sea. The Antarctic toothfish has a more southerly distribution and is managed solely by the CCAMLR. It is caught from the Antarctic Convergence (at about 60°S) southwards to the Antarctic continent. Within the Ross Sea the two species are equally abundant between 60°S and 63°S, and over 90 per cent of the longlines set between these latitudes catch both fish at the same time. Fishing for Patagonian tooth-fish began in the late 1970s but didn’t become large-scale until the early 1990s following the decline in longline fisheries elsewhere. By the mid-1990s, Patagonian toothfish was a highly prized catch, branded “white gold” by industrial long-range fishing fleets. Within the CCAMLR area, most of the reported catch of Patagonian toothfish is taken around Kerguelen Island (French territory), South Georgia (British) and Heard and McDonald Islands (Australian). Longlining is the preferred fishing method, although some bottom trawling for smaller fish occurs around Heard and McDonald Islands. Longlining for Patagonian toothfish in these areas is prohibited during the summer months to minimise the danger of catching the seabirds that breed on the islands at that time. The legal catch of Patagonian toothfish within the CCAMLR area was almost 15,000 t in the mid-1990s and is currently about 9500 t. In contrast, fishing for the Antarctic toothfish is permitted only during the summer months. The main fishery to date has been in the Ross Sea, which is covered by ice for most of the year. During January and February, areas of open water, called polynas, form, allowing access to the continental shelf and slope. New Zealand longliners initiated a small-scale fishery for Antarctic tooth-fish in 1996–97. Since then, New Zealand vessels and, more recently, vessels from other countries, including Norway, Russia, South Africa, Uruguay and the UK, have returned each summer. Longline vessels start working the northern reaches of the Ross Sea when the season opens in December, move south as the polynas form and the ice clears, and reach the southern reaches by February, then move back north as the sea ice re-forms. The Antarctic-toothfish catch in the Ross Sea has steadily increased from about 40 t in 1997–98 to over 3000 t in 2005–06. Toothfish is an excellent eating species, with strong markets in the US and Japan, and is therefore very valuable. The fact that it provides the most valuable fishery in the Southern Ocean, an area difficult to police because of its remoteness, has encouraged extensive IUU fishing. With the annual value of the illegal catch in the hundreds of millions of US dollars, there has been a major incentive to harvest toothfish illegally. IUU fishing was first detected in the mid-1990s, around South Georgia. Over successive years an IUU fleet of up to 50 vessels moved steadily eastwards through the Southern Ocean, decimating toothfish stocks and killing tens of thousands of sea-birds as it went. As a result, Patagonian toothfish stocks plummeted to less than 10 per cent of their initial levels around Prince Edward Island (South African territory) and Crozet (French). Stocks around South Georgia, Kerguelen Island, and Heard and McDonald Islands have also been hit hard. Over the past few years the number of IUU vessels appears to have diminished, but vessels have also moved into the high seas and further south towards the Antarctic continent, where they are harder to detect. The IUU catch is estimated to have peaked at 54,000 t in 1996–97—exceeding the legal take by a factor of four—but is currently believed to have dropped to less than 5000 t. In an effort to combat IUU fishing, the CCAMLR has developed a raft of management measures. These include a catch-documentation scheme with associated trade restrictions, mandatory coverage by satellite-based vessel-monitoring systems, schemes involving trade sanctions and requiring non-party vessels to adhere to CCAMLR regulations, and vessel-identification and -marking requirements. It is believed that these measures, combined with increased surveillance by aircraft and patrol vessels within EEZs, as well as some well-publicised chases on the high seas, have led to a decline in IUU activity. Another important reason for the careful management of toothfish is the incidental mortality of seabirds, including several species of endangered albatross, through their being caught on longlines. This was a major problem in the Patagonian toothfish fishery and resulted in the CCAMLR imposing a range of mitigation measures, including night setting and the use of tori lines (bird-scaring streamers). Recent observer reports have shown that these measures, when fully implemented, have reduced seabird by-catch by legal fishers to very low numbers. Thanks to good management and a proactive approach by the fishing industry, seabird by-catch hasn’t been an issue in the Ross Sea, where fisheries observers have recorded only one seabird death since fishing for toothfish began there. Although illegal fishers are unlikely to employ measures to avoid catching seabirds, it is also true that illegal fishing hasn’t been as big a problem in the Ross Sea as in other parts of the Southern Ocean. As an alternative approach to combating IUU activity, Greenpeace has pushed to have toothfish listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It claims that IUU fishing is a larger problem than the CCAMLR believes, and estimates that up to 100,000 Southern Ocean seabirds, including endangered species of albatross, have been drowned by pirate fishers each year. Appendix II lists species not yet threatened with immediate extinction but which may be if exploitation continues. Commercial trade in these species is allowed on condition that specimens are legally obtained and the trade isn’t detrimental to remaining populations. Australia and New Zealand have supported CITES listing of Patagonian toothfish, although other CCAMLR members have resisted, arguing that the commission can manage the fishery through other means. Although considerable research has been carried out on Patagonian toothfish, little was known about the biology of Antarctic toothfish prior to 1999. With the help of US scientists, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has recently developed a validated method for ageing Antarctic toothfish—a first for any toothfish species. For over 20 years, US scientists at McMurdo Sound, in the Ross Sea, have both tagged Antarctic toothfish and injected them with oxytetracycline. This chemical is deposited in the hard parts of the fish and acts as a date marker, a record of when the fish was released. Recent recapture and analysis of six fish (including one that had been at liberty for seven years) has confirmed that rings in the otoliths (or ear bones) form annually. Antarctic toothfish grow at a rate similar to that of some New Zealand temperate-water middle-depth species, such as hoki, hake and ling. They reach a length of about 60 cm in five years, about 100 cm in 10 years, and about 150 cm in 20 years. The maximum age recorded is almost 50 years. The spawning cycle of the Antarctic toothfish is poorly understood because the Ross Sea is covered with ice for six months of the year. Some spawning fish have been found to the north in May, so it is likely that spawning continues from then through to early spring. Larvae and juvenile fish live in the upper layers of the ocean until about 15 cm long, after which they start to spend more time near the seabed. Juveniles are typically found in the shallow waters of the continental shelf, and move deeper down the continental slope as they get older. However, the largest and oldest fish are found on the seamounts, banks, and ridges to the north of the Ross Sea. Stomach content analyses by NIWA indicate that adult Antarctic toothfish feed mostly on other fish, especially rattails and icefish, but also take squid and crustaceans. Some of the more unusual food items identified include three penguins, numerous skate egg cases and a large quantity of rocks. Adult Antarctic toothfish are in turn preyed upon by a variety of marine mammals including sperm whales, killer whales and Weddell seals. Once the biology of the Antarctic toothfish was understood, scientists turned their attention to monitoring its abundance. Because toothfish live so deep and have no swim bladder, traditional methods of determining abundance, such as trawl surveys and acoustic surveys, are unlikely to succeed. An alternative approach is tagging, and in 2000–01 New Zealand initiated a tagging programme. This was very successful thanks to industry co-operation, programme design and international co-ordination by the Ministry of Fisheries, and technical support from NIWA. Following the success of this programme, in 2002–03 the CCAMLR adopted tagging as the main method of monitoring Antarctic toothfish stocks and made it compulsory. Now every vessel must tag and return one toothfish out of every tonne caught (about one animal in 25). The Antarctic toothfish fishery is managed by the CCAMLR as an “exploratory” fishery, i.e. one in which there is a strong emphasis on data collection and research. In order to set appropriate quotas, fisheries managers need scientifically robust estimates of stocks and the levels of harvest they are able to sustain. Scientists from NIWA have recently completed the first stock assessment for Antarctic toothfish, and the first for any exploratory Antarctic fishery. The assessment incorporates standard fisheries data, such as age frequencies and catch against effort, as well as tag–release-and-recapture data. It is estimated that the initial Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish spawning stock stood at 69,000 t, and that the current stock stands at 61,000 t—the equivalent of about 2.3 million mature fish. Based on NIWA’s yield estimate, the CCAMLR has set the quota for the 2005–06 season at just under 3000 t. This equates to about 100,000 fish, with a total wholesale value of NZ$50 million. NIWA’s model has introduced the CCAMLR to a new methodology of assessing fish stocks. Within 18 months, this has become widely accepted and is now being applied by overseas scientists to a range of other toothfish fisheries, including Patagonian toothfish around South Georgia. In addition, the New Zealand government has just released its Ross Sea strategy. According to this, New Zealand will seek to balance the harvesting of fish with such protection of the marine environment as will ensure the long-term viability of ecosystems, maintain biological diversity and conserve areas potentially vulnerable to human impact. The government is currently building a scientific case for a protected area in international waters around the Balleny Islands archipelago, on the edge of the Ross Sea. Other key components of the strategy are measures to combat illegal fishing in the Ross Sea and Southern Ocean, to increase marine research and to improve fisheries management within the area covered by the CCAMLR. So far, IUU fishing has not been a major problem in New Zealand’s sector of the Southern Ocean, and the CCAMLR and RNZAF hope to keep it that way. Perhaps the greatest challenge in the Ross Sea fishery is to understand the potential impacts of fishing on marine ecosystems. NIWA and the Ministry of Fisheries have already started pulling information together on the various aspects of the Ross Sea ecosystem as a whole and working with other scientists, from both New Zealand and overseas, to understand it better. Only when this work has been completed will we be able to answer truly the question of whether fishing the icy waters of the Ross Sea is sustainable.
When New Zealand broke away from the massive continent of Gondwana 84 million years ago, many of our most iconic and unusual species were already on the ship. Kiwi, tuatara, Hamilton’s frog, and the giant Powelliphanta land snails are all ancient species that evolved into essentially their present day forms before our ancestors were even swinging in the trees. Today, many of these ancient survivors and more recent descendents are under threat; scientists across the globe have highlighted species extinction and climate change as the two most pressing issues of the 21st century. One hundred and sixty-eight nations, including ours, consider biodiversity so important that their presidents, prime ministers, and leaders signed the International Convention on Biological Diversity, a treaty aimed at stemming the tide of species extinction by protecting plants and animals within their natural habitats. So the New Zealand Government is doing its best to stop species extinction, right? Wrong. In clean, green, 100% pure New Zealand, in April 2006, the Minister of Conservation gave a coal company permission to drive to extinction Powelliphanta “Augustus”, New Zealand’s most recently identified species of carnivorous land snail, clinging tenuously to a high-altitude existence on a single mountain just north of Westport. Over the next few months, the actions of a company owned by New Zealand citizens, state-owned Solid Energy, may doom this species to death. In this battle between big business and biodiversity, big business won. And the Labour Government wrote the death warrant. The reasoning behind this decision was simple enough: money. In a world with an unsustainable hunger for coal, New Zealand is racing to feed the beast, costing us our ancient species and our future climate along the way. We believe this price is too high. In this article, we’ll tell you why the Save Happy Valley Coalition doesn’t accept the Government’s decision on the Mt Augustus snail, nor the courts’ decisions on the proposed mine in nearby Happy Valley. We hope to show you that the reason we’re continuing to spend our time and energy fighting this battle for New Zealand’s biodiversity is because the organisations charged with this task are failing on an unprecedented scale. We hope you’ll visit our occupation of Happy Valley—now in its 12th week. Most of all, we hope you’ll lend us your support The Mt Augustus ridgeline, rising steeply 1000 metres above the sea on the western edge of the enormous Stockton opencast mine, is a spectacularly beautiful landscape. Capped with snow in winter, it is a prominent feature of the Buller skyline with cultural significance for local iwi. Although Powelliphanta “Augustus” was first found in 1996, it was not examined until 2003, and by this time the original discovery site had been mined. In early 2005, another substantial area of habitat was ‘accidentally’ destroyed by mining activity. In their tiny remaining 5 ha of habitat, it is estimated that there are 500 snails left. Last April, Solid Energy announced plans to mine 94 per cent of the remaining habitat and applied to the Department of Conservation (DOC) for a permit to move away 100 snails by hand. But in its application the company made it clear that it believed it could legally bulldoze the entire population to oblivion, no matter what DOC said. The coalmining licence for Stockton, the argument goes, allows any land use—be that building without a building consent or killing protected species. The Crown Law office, when consulted by DOC, agreed. It took a Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society application to the High Court to determine that both the Crown and Solid Energy were wrong: the Wildlife Act protects protected species—no matter where they live. This doesn’t mean the company can’t kill protected species, just that it needs Government permission to do so. In the meantime, DOC rushed through another permit the company needed to blast the ridgeline—a concession to drop up to 270 tonnes, or many large truckloads, of rock at a time onto conservation land below the ridgeline. Did DOC take into account that the rockfall area is habitat for Great Spotted Kiwi and the only part of Powelliphanta “Augustus” habitat that would not be mined? Did DOC publicly notify a concession with such potentially high impacts? No. Solid Energy is appealing the High Court decision, but the company needn’t have worried. On April 12, Conservation Minister Chris Carter’s office announced that Solid Energy could move up to 250 individual snails, take some into captivity, use heavy machinery to transfer habitat and then, without waiting to see if the new colony survived, mine the snails’ remaining habitat and in so doing kill the rest. The Minster’s office stressed that it had been a difficult decision. It must have been. The science was, and is, very clear: the only way to guarantee that the snails do not become extinct is to leave them where they are. Moving 250 snails is all very well, if you even can find that many of these nocturnal and elusive creatures. But where do you put them? The main transfer site,according to DOC, only has enough habitat to hold at most 85 snails; hardly a sustainable population. What’s more, the area is probably unsuitable habitat—it has different altitude, aspect, climate, soils and vegetation, and is close enough that the snails could have migrated there by themselves. In captivity, fungal infections make Powelliphanta snails almost impossible to breed. Direct transfer of habitat is likely to kill many snails, and leave questionable habitat in the end. The evidence that this population of snails has not expanded its territory, and that its habitat is so restricted, both suggest the necessity to protect the original habitat. If Solid Energy were allowed to attempt to re-establish a population in a different location, how is it proposed that the success of the move be measured? How likely is it for a top order carnivore to successfully survive immediately on re-release to a new habitat into which it has not spread to date? These scientific questions need to be answered before the destruction of the original habitat. The economics of the situation, on the other hand, are about as clear as coal. In November, the National Business Review reported that $50 million worth of coal lies under the snails. By April, this had spiralled to $400-$700 million. Has the price of coal increased by 1300 percent? Or was Solid Energy just talking it up because they have already sold the coal from under the snails and needed to pressure the government to avoid losing contracts? Whether you place more value on $50 million dollars worth of coal or an ancient species, or not, consider this: nobody asked for your opinion. Or ours. There has been no avenue for public involvement in this process, no consultation under the Resource Management Act; it has even been difficult to get basic information about where the snails live. With state-owned enterprises minister Trevor Mallard and West Coast MP Damien O’Connor banging on the Cabinet table, Chris Carter chose to make the most unpalatable decision that a Conservation minister can make—to allow political pressure from a state-owned company to consign a species to extinction. Waimangaroa Valley near Westport, is a stunning, wild and untouched landscape. It is home to thirty great spotted kiwi/roa and another rare endemic snail, Powelliphanta patrickensis. Eleven other endangered birds and animals inhabit this enclave of diversity. According to the 1998 Ngakauwau Ecological Report, the area has “the greatest ecological diversity in the least modified condition [in the Ngakawau Ecological District], particularly of the endemic coal measure communities. It is an outstanding, and fragile, natural area (and landscape) and its values should be recognised in all future management.” This DOC report was a broad sweep of the area aimed at identifying Recommended Areas for Protection (RAP). The authors had explicitly tried to exclude areas with coal resources from the RAP, but felt that some areas—such as Happy Valley—were simply too ecologically important. But after Solid Energy lawyers met with DOC staff, the recommendation of protection for the upper Waimangaroa was suddenly removed. The regional DOC conservator later claimed that this did not mean the area wasn’t ecologically important, just that it would now be left to the Resource Management Act to decide on its land use. But the RAP would not have meant the area necessarily became formally protected. And how could any court consider the area’s importance when even DOC failed to recommend its protection? Five years later, Solid Energy applied for resource consent to open the Cypress Mine, a 105 ha opencast pit that includes the Happy Valley wetland and much of the upper Waimangaroa. By the end of 2005, this application had been through the Environment and High Courts, and Solid Energy still won. Surely this meant that environmental justice had been done? But would the outcome have been different if the area hadn’t been removed from the RAP? Or perhaps the mine would have been stopped if the courts had considered the 12 million tonnes of climate-changing carbon dioxide the coal would produce? Or if the court had heard from the Landcare Research scientist who was told not to testify by his employers because the institution had research contracts with Solid Energy it didn’t want to lose. Or perhaps biodiversity would have won the day if the courts could have considered the potential effects of the other 3–6 opencast mines Solid Energy has planned in the area. The Cypress Mine will destroy the habitat of 10 per cent of the Powelliphanta patrickensis population, but mines planned for the next 50 years will destroy 70 per cent or more. For the beautiful russet brown snails, living essentially unchanged for millions of years, 50 years is too short a time to adapt or be destroyed. Surely, you say, the Resource Management Act required that Solid Energy mitigate this destruction? Certainly. For one, the company is building a predator-proof area of 17 ha. Never mind that the proposed predator-proof area already has very few pests and a healthy population of snails that are already likely to be at carrying-capacity for the area. No amount of greenwashing can make up for habitat destruction, and in this natural haven with few predators, it is habitat that these creatures need. One of the outcomes of the court process was a provision that Solid Energy transfer 12 ha of the nationally-significant Happy Valley wetland, with plans subject to approval by a team of experts. However, the team of experts is appointed by Solid Energy and the local council. The team isn’t required to include any wetland ecologists, which is just as well for Solid Energy, since the wetland ecologists we’ve asked about successfully transferring many football fields of wetland, and storing some under a sprinkler for several years, just laughed. Wetlands are complicated hydrological systems, and attacking them with heavy machinery will break up the peat underneath, causing a massive release of nutrients and irreversibly altering the entire system. According to Alan Mark, renowned wetland ecologist, the international scientific literature revealed just one previous attempt at such a wetland transfer—which failed. In 10 years, when Solid Energy have finished with their 96 m deep pit, what will remain of the precariously balanced ecological community of Happy Valley, of this natural haven for kiwi and snails? A bulldozed landscape, a dead wetland, encroaching gorse. The mining will move on, but the loss of biodiversity will be forever. Earlier this year, Solid Energy published an environmental report that put the company within 2 per cent of having a “net positive effect” on the environment. A more honest assessment may come from the substantial scoping report on Solid Energy due out from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) this June. Environmental management in New Zealand is largely in the hands of local government, and on the West Coast the councils are not doing their job. The councils that fail to get Solid Energy to clean up existing pollution are the same councils that are subject to another investigation by the PCE, councils that back the illegal draining of wetlands, councils that—illegally and without consultation—removed all of the wetland protection provisions from the regional plan. Under their management, Solid Energy’s water-right apparently allows it to discharge so much acid mine drainage and coal fines that the lower Ngakawau River is devoid of all life. Some whitebait venture upstream in the spring, but when they hit the acidic, coal laden-waters of the Ngakawau they turn tail and head back out to sea. Don Elder, CEO of Solid Energy, joked that locals could fill their coal buckets from the river. Nobody laughed. So with a state-owned enterprise out-of-control, local and national government failing to protect our biodiversity, what is left? What can the Save Happy Valley Coalition, volunteers juggling work, study and snails, do now? We have no consultants, no public relations department, no private investigators, no millions of dollars to spend. We have no choice—like those thoughout the ages who have used non-violent direct action to challenge wrongs–we must take our banners to the streets, we must try to stop the bulldozers with our bare hands.Watch this space. This is David and Goliath, without the slingshot.
Long-range weather forecasting using the moon was introduced to New Zealand by Clement Wragge in 1910. One of the more colourful characters in early Australian meteorology, Wragge was among the first forecasters to name cyclones. He started with the Greek alphabet, moved on to women’s names, then settled for the names of politicians he disliked. Wragge resigned as Queensland state meteorologist following intense criticism of his failure to break a drought by firing six hail cannons repeatedly at the clouds. He left Australia after missing out on the job of commonwealth meteorologist but published a nine-year seasonal forecast before he left. In Auckland he set up an observatory and forecasting service and lectured widely. After Wragge’s death, his son Kismet continued moon-based long-range forecasting from the Waikato. In turn, he was followed by Harry Alcock, who was in the umbrella trade and claimed special knowledge of the weather from observing the rise and fall of demand for his product. Today, Ken Ring is following in these characters’ footsteps. Ken Ring’s Predict Weather Almanac and Isobaric Maps 2005 includes a continuous sequence of weather maps from 18 years and 10 days earlier, and uses them as a guide to forecast the weather. How successful is this method? New Zealand is situated in the mid-latitude westerly wind belt. Choose a map at random from the past and there is a good chance it will show a westerly situation. Likewise, choose a day at random in the future and there is a good chance there will be a westerly flow over the country. This being so, it is likely that past and future weathers will match, especially in eastern areas, which are largely sheltered from frontal rain-bands. Napier and Blenheim, for example, average only 92 and 78 rain days per year respectively. This means you could forecast dry weather every day for a year in Blenheim and expect a success rate of about 80 per cent—higher if you ignored the days when rain fell only during the night. If you allowed your forecast to be a day out, the percentage of correct forecasts would probably be in the 90s. In western areas, the number of rain days is higher. New Plymouth has 137 and Hokitika 171. Even so, if you forecast rain in Hokitika every third day for a year and allowed a day either way, your chances of forecast success would be very high. A better way to judge the usefulness of forecasts based on old weather maps is to look at situations that bring severe weather such as prolonged heavy rain and gale-force winds. The most common severe-weather situation in New Zealand is a strong north-west flow ahead of an active front, which causes heavy rain in the west of the South Island and gale-force winds in many areas, especially over coastal waters. On such occasions, the weather map shows five or more isobars crossing New Zealand from the north-west. A search through the weather maps that show what actually happened in 2005 reveals 22 occurrences of this nature, none of which is matched by a similar event on the weather maps from 18 years and 10 days before. Allowing a day either way catches only three events. The older maps show 17 such situations, none of which re-materialised 18 years and 10 days later. Heavy rain in eastern areas occurs when a low moves east across New Zealand and strong easterly winds blow from sea to land on the pole-ward side of the low. On the maps for 2005 there are 18 situations in which a low with two circular isobars cross New Zealand. Just one of these matches a similar situation 18 years and 10 days before, while the maps from that time show 13 other occasions when a two-isobar low crossed New Zealand, none of which was reincarnated in 2005. If there was much predictive skill in using the maps from 18 years and 10 days ago, you might expect the method to pick up the long-lasting highs that sometimes influence New Zealand’s weather for many days in a row. One such affected the South Island from January 25 to February 4, 2005, bringing dry weather, apart from brief drizzle in Canterbury and Southland and isolated showers in Buller on February 3 and 4. During this time Ring’s weather maps showed a sequence of seven fronts crossing the South Island, and he forecast rain in the west on most days and heavy rain on four days. Considering the year as a whole, Ring forecast heavy rain in Hokitika on 53 occasions during 2005. In fact, heavy rain fell on only five of those days—a success rate of less than 10 per cent. Allowing a day either way captures only another four days, making for a success rate of less than 20 per cent. Allow two days either way, which amounts to a five-day window, and the success rate rises to 34 per cent. In the eastern locations of Napier, Blenheim and Christchurch, Ring forecast a total of 25 days with heavy rain. Only one of these forecasts was correct—a success rate of 4 per cent. Allowing a day either way only catches two more events—a success rate of 12 per cent. Allowing two days either way catches only one more event, raising the success rate to 16 per cent. If long-range forecasting were as easy as following the same sequence of weather as occurred 18 years and 10 days ago, the veracity of the method would have been clearly established a long time ago and everyone would be using it to great financial advantage. But the method doesn’t work very well, as the dismal success rate for forecasting severe-weather events shows. Success this year has been no less elusive. The map Ring used to forecast the weather for January 29, 2006, was from January 19, 1988. On that day a depression formed over the Tasman Sea from the remains of cyclones Anne and Agi. This deepened explosively as it crossed New Zealand on January 19, bringing hurricane-force winds to the east coast of the South Island and heavy rain to Buller and Otago. On January 29, 2006, by comparison, a large high covered the South Island, bringing dry weather, and the winds along the Canterbury coast barely reached 15 kn. During March 7–10, 1988, a deep depression formed as the remains of cyclone Bola drifted westward past the top of the North Island, bringing severe flooding to Gisborne, northern Hawke’s Bay and Northland, and widespread destructive winds to many parts of the North Island. Ring used the maps for this period to forecast the weather for March 18–21, 2006. Nothing resembling Bola happened on those days. A week later the remains of tropical cyclone Wati moved south over the Tasman, then weakened considerably before crossing Northland. It brought some heavy rain and strong winds to northeastern parts of the North Island, but nothing to compare with the widespread destruction wreaked by Bola. When interviewed by the Gisborne Herald on March 14 about the non-arrival of a Bola-like disaster, Ring allowed that there was still time and encouraged people to watch for seagulls moving inland, sheep moving downhill and horses sniffing the air, as animals can predict the weather as well. While some people may look for clues to tomorrow’s weather in the aerobatics of a fantail or a wink from a farmer’s pig, others see more sinister forces at work. For example, when Hurricane Katrina was trashing New Orleans last year, Scott Stevens, a TV weather-forecaster in Idaho, claimed to detect an insidious human influence that went way beyond the effects of climate change driven by excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. His conspiracy theory involved a secret weapon allegedly developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s that exploited apparent flaws in classical thermodynamics. According to Stevens, this weapon had fallen into the hands of the Japanese mafia, who had directed Katrina over New Orleans as retribution for the wartime bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Soon afterwards, Stevens quit his TV job to pursue opportunities gained from his newfound internet notoriety. “There’s a chess game going on in the sky," he told an Idaho newspaper.
A light train falls as Department of Conservation (DoC) technical-support officer Richard Nester and I reach Siberia, on the Rimutaka Rail Trail between Upper Hutt and Featherston. The pick-and-shovel workers who built this line in the 1870s used to call the spot Horseshoe Gully, probably because of the 144 degrees the track here swung through over the course of 100 m. But the ferocious winds that can tear through the area soon prompted use of the ultimate chill-associated name. The only fatal train accident during the Rimutaka Incline’s 77-year history (1878–1955) occurred at this location. Three children lost their lives, and a fourth died later of injuries, when a gust of wind blew two railcars off the track on September 11, 1880. Siberia is also the one section of the rail trail that has unquestionably been reclaimed by nature. A massive wash-out in 1967 obliterated the high, curving embankment that the trains once chugged across. Now mountain-bikers and hikers cautiously pick their way across an ever-shifting gully before regaining the line of the track. In the New Zealand Geographic Place Names Database (at www.linz. govt.nz), there are 16 places around the country with the word Siberia in their names—and this harsh spot on the Rimutaka Incline isn’t one of them. Otago, on the other hand, lays claim to six. From Siberia Stream in South Auckland to Siberia Hut in the Leatham Conservation Area, in Marlborough, and on to Siberia Saddle in Westland and Siberia Ford in Canterbury, New Zealand maps are peppered with a word that is most probably bastardised Mongolian for “the calm land”. Of course, a calm land wasn’t usually what bestowers of the epithet usually had in mind. In the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary, Siberia is described as “A. a vast region in Russia . . . an extremely cold, inhospitable, or remote place. B. a place of exile or imprisonment.” For those of us who were alive during the Cold War, the name evokes both things simultaneously. Celebrated novelists such as Solzhenitsyn and, more than a century earlier, Dostoevsky detailed the cruel realities of the Siberian penal colonies. Their writings helped define how the rest of the world viewed the place. Miners appear to have been responsible for naming many New Zealand Siberias. In at least some of the spots concerned, the name might have been coined as both a physical description and a verbal talisman. As Michael King states in The Penguin History of New Zealand regarding the discovery of gold in the 1860s: “Every province in the country was keen to find ample deposits of ‘payable’ gold within its own boundaries after hearing of the effects of such bonanzas in Siberia, California and Victoria, Australia, in the 1850s.” Officially, gold was first discovered in New Zealand in the Coromandel. Fittingly, the name Siberia cropped up not long after, at the site of the first quartz-crushing battery for New Zealand Crown Mines in Waitawheta Gorge, Karangahake. No doubt there was a reason they chose Siberia over California. On the West Coast of the South Island, the most remote outpost of the Rewanui coal-mining settlement had the distinction of being called Siberia. In the early days the Rewanui mines, the harsh, isolated existence of the miners and their families led miner turned Labour leader and MP Harry Holland to pen Rewanui: A Sonnet. In his poem, Holland describes Rewanui as a “Vale of Ill”. By the time Labour came to power in 1935, Holland had died, but Paddy Webb MP, the incoming Minister of Mines and another ex-miner, argued that living at Rewanui was an unreasonable burden for workers and their families to endure. Shortly afterwards, most Rewanui residents were relocated to Runanga. Reading Les Wright’s engaging history of Rewanui, Siberia to the Sea: Memories of Rewanui Settlement, the Liverpool Coal Mines and the Rewanui Incline, one senses that in ridding the mining industry of many of the undesirable practices of the day, reformers ensured a bit of good was lost along with the bad. For some, the hardships they faced, far from being intolerable, seemed to provide true solace, even though, as Wright states, “To the average New Zealander, a place like Rewanui rated somewhere between a penal colony and the end of the earth.” Since the miners liked to live as close as possible to the mine section they worked, those on Rewanui’s Siberia section faced an additional exile, for Siberia was tucked up high in the shadows of the Paparoa Range. In a quite different vein, S.R. White, in the New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics (2002, vol. 45, pp. 271–287), defines for the first time the Siberian Fault Zone (SFZ), a 40 km northern extension of the Moonlight Tectonic Zone. The fault is traceable from the head of the Wilkin River towards Haast Pass, in the south-west of the South Island. Earlier studies recognise the fault but consider it part of the Moonlight Fault. White’s observations suggest the two are distinct. His suggested name comes from Siberia Stream, which lies about midway along the fault, and Siberia Valley, in which the stream flows. Arguably the most well-known Siberia in New Zealand, Siberia Valley is flanked by Mount Dreadful and Mount Awful, in Mount Aspiring National Park. Local legend has it that valley and mountains were named by an early explorer who had difficulty getting out of the area and was in no mood to appreciate the stunning scenery. There’s a popular tramp through the valley, and Southern Alps Air offers the “Siberia Experience”, which involves being flown into the valley and dropped off to hike through the beech forests, then rendezvousing with a jet-boat on the Wilkin. In February 2005, I had the rare pleasure of sitting in a room full of railway enthusiasts and experts to learn about the Fell-locomotive railway system that used to operate over the Rimutakas. At one point, discussion turned to the naming of Siberia, on the Incline. Retired engineering expert Ron Grant smiled and said, “Every government department has their Siberia.” There was a pause in the conversation as everyone in the room nodded in quiet assent. Ron went on to say that, in his day, those engaged in public-works projects on the West Coast often felt as if they were working in Siberia. He chuckled, but I heard pride behind the statement. The scope of the projects, the physical hardship and the isolation—these were challenges he had surmounted. After that occasion, I started to notice that Siberia was a ubiquitous part of the New Zealand lexicon. At least two MPs in recent months have been referred to in the news as having been “sent to Siberia” following falls from political grace. The premise of the television comedy Serial Killers, which was cancelled in 2004, was the banishment of fictional soap-opera writers to a shed called Siberia. And, in Lynley Hood’s biography Sylvia!, writer and educator Sylvia Ashton-Warner is several times quoted as describing periods of her life in her home country as “solitary confinement in Siberia”. The Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English notes that several of the bleaker corners of Parliament’s buildings (usually areas to which opposition backbenchers were consigned) have been referred to as Siberia over the years. Of course, not all the public service Siberias were named Siberia. Journalist Tom O’Connor, now living in Timaru, recalls that when his father, who worked for the old New Zealand Post Office in Aria in the King Country—not exactly the centre of the universe itself—got offside with his boss, he was banished to Piopio, and how another post-office employee who fell into disfavour was transferred from Foxton to Haast. O’Connor thinks that for those who used to man lighthouses, Stephens Island, in Cook Strait, was a Siberia. But the original Siberia is not just a bleak place of exile. As birders know, it is at the far end of the flight path followed by myriad arctic waders that migrate to and from Australia and New Zealand every year. Curlews, sandpipers, turnstones, knots and many other species navigate this 25,000 km East Asia–Australasia flyway with unerring accuracy. Unfortunately, the wetlands that the birds depend upon for feeding en route are becoming every bit as scarce as the gold fields of old at either end. On this side of the world, however, it is still possible to marvel at the thousands upon thousands of waders as they arrive in spring and depart each autumn. Not only does their miraculous achievement excite something of the hard-tack hope that the word Siberia evokes, it also represents a bridge to a country that seems a world away. Back on the Rimutaka Rail Trail, Richard and I measure the Siberia Tunnel for a DOC interpretation project. Torch on, boots wet, hands cold, I try to imagine what it was like to work the line, to travel through Siberia every day. My simulacrum version is based on books and stories, the tales men and women tell when worry and exhaustion have worn away and only wisdom remains. Still, I ponder the stories told in the privately produced Memories of Cross Creek, compiled by Phil Clent, and for a moment I catch a glimpse of life lived on society’s edge. As Graham Murrell, a Fell-engine fitter on the Incline for over seven years, recalls of his first and only Fell-engine cab trip through Siberia Tunnel: “I could barely breathe, my ears felt as if they were on fire and my fingernails felt as if they were being burnt with a hot poker . . . When we were finally through and in the cool night air our bodies felt as if they would burst and we broke out in a ball of perspiration. My clothes were wet through.” Bounded by the Ural Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, the great Siberia to the north is a land of extremes. All but its south-western corner lies in Russia, accounting for over half of that country’s territory. Nomadic groups laid claim to different parts until the Mongols conquered it in the 13th century. Starting in the 16th century, Russian traders began to move in, followed by Cossacks and eventually the Russian imperial army. Still, until the Trans-Siberian railway was built between 1891 and 1905, Siberia remained largely unexplored and sparsely inhabited. As the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science notes: “development of Siberia, since its joining Russia in late XVI century has always been associated with exploitation of its natural resources: first fur, then lands, noble metals, now mostly raw materials and power resources”. The ecological price for all this resource extraction has been high. Many of Russia’s most heavily polluted cities lie in Siberia, even though less than 15 per cent of the country’s population resides there. Nevertheless, large tracts of Siberia remain wild and relatively unspoilt. Three great rivers, the Ob, the Yenisei and the Lena, flow across it, and, in Lake Baikal, which contains 20 per cent of the planet’s fresh water, it boasts the world’s cleanest and deepest lake. A major part of its vastness is the West Siberian Plain, 2.7 million km2 in area, and it is home to about half of the world’s boreal forests. The Kamchatka peninsula, meanwhile, comparable in size to Japan, is home to the densest grizzly-bear population in the world. For all the readiness with which New Zealanders have seized upon the name, the place itself lies beyond most people’s imaginative grasp.
An often-straggly tree smothered with gold flowers each spring has long been a national favourite.
It was bucketing down with snow. It hadn’t stopped since we’d set out. Graham and I scraped a flat spot in the gravel with a snow shovel and an old ship’s timber washed up on the beach. Marcus unpacked the tent. By the time we had it pitched my hands had lost their circulation and our kayaks were fast losing their form to the enveloping snow. “Welcome to the School of South Georgia, boys.” It was camp 1 of our attempt to kayak round an island we’d dreamed of circumnavigating for a year and a half. The dream had been much warmer than the reality.
In her heyday she was a star of the greatest magnitude, more celebrated than the latter-day astronauts who walked on the Moon. For her pioneering transcontinental solo flights, she was fêted, desired and worshipped. She was the Daughter of the Skies, the Darling of the Skyways. Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, she vanished, her meteoric rise to fame leaving almost no after-image. Today, in the pantheon of New Zealand’s national heroes, Jean Batten remains a brilliant, mysterious and tragic figure.
Thanks, you're good to go!
Thanks, you're good to go!
Ask your librarian to subscribe to this service next year. Alternatively, use a home network and buy a digital subscription—just $1/week...
Subscribe to our free newsletter for news and prizes